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The persistence of technological creativity explored

What makes Western Culture to nest for the wealth of modern society and the path for getting out of the mire of human misery? Joel Mokyr has some ideas: The persistence of technological creativity and the Great Enrichment: Reflections on the ‘Rise of Europe’ [Editor’s note: This column first appeared as a chapter in the Vox eBook, The Long Economic and Political Shadow of History, Volume 1, available to download here.]

This difficulty was resolved in late medieval and early modern Europe. What emerged and turned out to be of great importance, is that political fragmentation was coupled with an intellectual and cultural unity, a more or less integrated market for ideas, that allowed Europe to benefit from the increasing return associated with intellectual activity. This unity was rooted in Europe’s classical heritage (with the widespread use of Latin as the lingua franca of intellectuals), and the structure of the Christian Church. While, for much of the Middle Ages, the intensity of intellectual activity (in terms of both the number of participants and the intensity of the debates) was light compared to what it was to become after 1500, it was transnational. By 1500 or so, national boundaries mattered little in the thin but lively community of intellectuals in Europe. Many of its leaders moved back and forth within Europe, despite the slow and uncomfortable nature of travel. Two of the most prominent leaders of 16th century humanism, the Valencia-born Juan Luis Vives and Desiderius Erasmus embodied this footlooseness: Vives studied in Paris, lived most of his life in Flanders, but was also a member of Corpus Christi College in Oxford and served for a while as tutor to Henry VIII’s daughter Mary; Erasmus moved back and forth between Leuven, England, and Basel but also spent time in Turin and Venice. In the 17th century such mobility among intellectuals became even more pronounced.

Moreover, through the printing press and the much improved postal system, written knowledge spread faster than ever.

The book might be a slog but maybe worth registering with the site to download